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New Hampshire GOP debate belonged to Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann

Rep. Michele Bachmann used the occasion of the debate to announce that she is definitely running for president. As for front-runner Mitt Romney, no competitors inflicted damage on his campaign.

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The early line from pundits was that Pawlenty missed a golden opportunity to go after Romney and begin to build a profile as a fighter. After all, many asked, if he is not willing to take on the front-runner, how would he behave toward Mr. Obama in the general election?

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An alternate view is that Pawlenty remains largely unknown to most voters, and that he chose to take the biggest opportunity to date to introduce himself to the public in a positive light. There are at least seven months to go before the first nominating contests, and Pawlenty still has time. The bad news for the Minnesotan is that he didn’t distinguish himself in other ways during the two-hour event. Romney even beat him in dropping a reference to the Boston Bruins – noting they were up 4-0 in Game Six of the Stanley Cup finals, winning a big cheer from the New Hampshire crowd.

Another loser of the evening was businessman Herman Cain. He won big during the first debate, speaking bluntly and plainly as the only nonpolitician in the field, and he has seen his poll numbers rise steadily since then. But Mr. Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, got tangled up in his explanation of a previous statement of why he would not be “comfortable” having a Muslim in his administration.

“I would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us,” Cain said. “And so, when I said I wouldn't be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us.”

When pressed by Mr. King on whether he would have a “loyalty test” for a Muslim seeking to serve in a Cain administration, he said: “I would ask certain questions, John. And it's not a litmus test. It is simply trying to make sure that we have people committed to the Constitution first in order for them to work effectively in the administration.”

Romney was handed the followup, and steered clear of the “loyalty test” issue. “I think we recognize that the people of all faiths are welcome in this country,” he said. “Our nation was founded on a principle of religious tolerance. That's in fact why some of the early patriots came to this country and we treat people with respect regardless of their religious persuasion.”

Romney did not mention his own faith – Mormonism – but his answer reflected his view that his religious beliefs should not be a factor as voters judge his fitness for the presidency. Some voters, especially evangelicals, say they’re not comfortable with the idea of a Mormon president, an issue that could hurt Romney in the primaries.

Another question heading into the New Hampshire debate was how former House Speaker Newt Gingrich would perform. Most of his senior staff resigned last week over his unorthodox strategy, which is light on in-person campaigning and heavy on social media and debates.

Mr. Gingrich probably did himself no favors. When asked about his recent assertion that the GOP plan for Medicare, authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, was “right-wing social engineering” – a comment he later backed away from – he offered this:


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